For others and for myself
I was once so terrible at acknowledging my own suffering as a chance to grow. I let myself become so consumed by the inequality of life, and developed a bitter attitude about the things that were happening to me. Anger filled my heart, clouded my head and brought jitters into my fingertips. A while back, I had begun to write an article that I eventually scratched. I abandoned the project because I didn’t know where to begin to write in a way that was productive, honoring to God, not hurtful and truly represented my values.
I prayed and asked God to give me patience, give me strength and most importantly, for Him to fill my heart with the same love and gentleness that Christ gave to me when He gave me His life.
While all of my opinions I try to ground in God’s unwavering truth, I fall short over and over when it comes to relaying His truth with the same mercy in which He relates it to us. I forget that I am a fallible and flawed human being. What good is truth without love? Who will we reach with spite and mouths of venom?
James 3:1-12 ESV is titled, “Taming the Tongue,” and is entirely dedicated to this struggle that I am sure many can relate with, both believers and unbelievers.
“And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life and set on fire by hell.
For every kind of beast and bird…has been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil full of deadly poison.” James 3:6-8
In these verses, James warns the church of the nature of the tongue to be harmful. He contrasts our ability to control animals, such as through the means of domestication, to the inability of us as people to control our tongues.
He warns us to be conscious and careful in the way that we speak to one another because, “From the same mouth come blessing and cursing,” and, “these things ought not to be so.”
In other words, “Do you kiss your mother with that mouth?” Do you cause others to pain with the same tongue that calls out for the fight of justice and love?
Earlier in the book, James also writes, “Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.” If I choose harmful words and harmful ways, how does that reflect on my heart, my faith and my Lord?
Most importantly, I forget that if it weren’t for His mercy, and for His grace and for His forgiveness, I could be worse off than all of the things that frustrate me. Who knows who I would be?
Mother Teresa recognized the mercy she was given and the need for mercy in the world. She was such a beautiful woman, and not even because of all the help she gave freely to those in need. What made her most beautiful were her reasons for helping those people.
She looked into the faces of each and every person that she met and saw the face of God. She saw that we are all made in his image and, like Jesus, was overcome with compassion for even those who may deny her or her Lord. She saw each person as a human being needing mercy in a fallen world.
Mother Teresa said, “Let no one ever come to you without leaving better and happier. Be the living expression of God’s kindness: kindness in your face, kindness in your eyes, kindness in your smile.”
I knew very little about Mother Teresa until I picked up a book titled, “Fighting For Life” by Lila Rose, the founder, and president of Live Action, one of the leading pro-life groups in the country.
In the book, Lila recounts the first time she ever discovered Mother Teresa and her selfless work. She describes Mother Teresa as one of her greatest inspirations for her cause because she saw past all barriers of age, ethnicity and economic status.
She traveled to Lebanon in 1987 to care for both Muslim and Christian children in the deeply segregated nation. In the times when those infected with HIV/AIDS were looked down upon, she opened up a home just to care for them.
“When you judge someone, you have no time to love them.” — Mother Teresa
Matthew 7 shows Jesus’s instruction when it comes to judging others, too. “Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but does not notice the log that is in your own eye?” Every person Mother Teresa and Jesus encountered was a human being, made in the image of God. Between the gracious suggestions and kind words of my editor, Abigail, my cherished conversations with my discipleship partner who I meet up to study the Bible and the context of scripture — Lila’s book, and God’s mercy and wisdom, I decided I better not continue with the article I had begun to write a few weeks back.
I was attempting to relay some of the experiences I was struggling with as Christians on a secular campus. However, I was not writing out of mercy and understanding. Instead, I was setting fires with my tongue in the way that I had felt burned. I had to ask myself, “Is this how Jesus would speak to people?”
For a moment, I was crushed, disheartened and downtrodden about my faith, about my writing and about my character. I thought, “I know I was a terrible person three years ago, but I was sure I had come so far. Yet here I am, falling into all the same potholes I had dug myself.”
Then, one day I woke up with a single thought in my mind, “I need to go to church.” The Lord began to take this broken, vengeful teenager and change her into someone who could better serve Him and His people.
However, I am still very much a flawed and hardened person. Sometimes, I take three steps back before I take a single step forward. I let my passions and frustrations consume me, I let bitterness nip once again at my thoughts and I took my anger out on the article draft.
I read back my words over and over again. I read Abigail’s emails and comments. I read Lila’s adoration for Mother Teresa and reliance on the Lord. I opened my Bible and read James, and I prayed. I reflected on the state of my heart, and I asked God for wisdom.
And like a cold wind during a Fargo winter, it hit me abruptly just how little mercy I not only had for myself, but for everyone around me. It’s an easy thing to forget, but a terribly destructive thing to lack. We live in a merciless world, a world of suffering, death and hatred, and I didn’t want to contribute to that unintentionally or otherwise.
We are called to, “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another…Repay no one evil for evil…do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” Romans 12:14-21 ESV.
The best way to combat the hatred in the world is to love and to never fight fire with more fire. The best way to end suffering is to extend your own hand to your brother or sister and help them stand. In fact, we are told to go a step further and to love and give to those who hate us.
Jesus says, “‘But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you…Give to everyone who begs from you, and from one who takes away your goods, do not demand them back.’” Luke 6:27-28, 30 ESV.
I also came to the understanding that, I will not bring glory to God or love to others by complaining about my struggles on campus, “‘For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul?” Matthew 16:25-26 ESV.
Yet, we also need to recognize that we are fallible human beings who make mistakes. How can we have patience and mercy for another when we cannot even give it to ourselves? How do we even know what mercy looks like if we do not recognize the mercy that has also been given to us?
In these moments where I doubt myself, I look to the sky and I remember what has been given to me. I remember that I am told to give all of my struggles and strife to God, and He will carry me through them. I am told that there will be suffering, and I will be agitated and angry and depressed in this life. But there is no suffering that could outweigh the love demonstrated by Christ when He laid down His life for us.
“Come to me all who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart and you will find rest for your souls.” Matthew 11:28-29 ESV
So, brothers and sisters, friends and classmates, teachers and students, choose to have mercy. Choose to have mercy on yourself, and choose to have mercy on others.
Yes, truth is important, but who will believe you when you spit it at them?